Last night at a gala event in Toronto, Sarah Bernstein, a Montreal-born writer now based in Scotland, was named the winner of the 30th annual Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel, Study for Obedience (Knopf Canada). She was awarded $100,000, courtesy of Scotiabank, as part of the honour. The Giller is considered Canada's highest literary honour for fiction writers, and is open to both novels and short story collections. The gala was hosted by beloved Canadian TV personality and author Rick Mercer and attended by over 300 guests.
The remaining finalists will each receive $10,000. They are: Eleanor Catton for her novel Birnam Wood, published by McClelland & Stewart; Kevin Chong for his novel The Double Life of Benson Yu, published by Simon & Schuster; Dionne Irving for her short story collection The Islands: Stories, published by Catapult; and CS Richardson for his novel All The Colour in the World, published by Knopf Canada.
The longlist, shortlist, and winner of the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize were selected by an esteemed five-member jury panel: Canadian authors Ian Williams (jury chair, winner of 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize), Sharon Bala, and Brian Thomas Isaac, and American author Rebecca Makkai and Indian-British writer, Neel Mukherjee. On September 6, the jury narrowed down the 145 submitted works to 12 to create the longlist. The shortlist of five was selected on October 11.
Speaking about Study for Obedience, the jury wrote: “The modernist experiment continues to burn incandescently in Sarah Bernstein’s slim novel, Study for Obedience. Bernstein asks the indelible question: what does a culture of subjugation, erasure, and dismissal of women produce? In this book, equal parts poisoned and sympathetic, Bernstein’s unnamed protagonist goes about exacting, in shockingly twisted ways, the price of all that the world has withheld from her. The prose refracts Javier Marias sometimes, at other times Samuel Beckett. It’s an unexpected and fanged book, and its own studied withholdings create a powerful mesmeric effect.”
Elana Rabinovitch, the Executive Director of Scotiabank Giller Prize also praised Bernstein's novel, saying "Study for Obedience is a ground-breaking, contemplative novel about victimhood and survival, a story told with unnerving precision by an author at the top of her game.”
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
Tomorrow, November 15, at 7:00pm, Berstein will be interviewed by Ryan Patrick, host of CBC’s Next Chapter at The Toronto Reference Library. Bernstein will also be honoured with an in-person interview as part of the 2024 San Miguel Writer’s Conference & Literary Festival, on February 22, 2024. Other notable interviews have included both Tom Hanks and Matthew McConaughey, along with Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Isabel Wilkerson, Emma Donoghue, and many more.
Sarah Bernstein, who is from Montreal, currently lives in Scotland. She attended the gala event virtually. Her writing has appeared in Granta among other publications. In 2023, she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. In an interview with the Globe & Mail before her win was announced, she expressed surprise at the book's international acclaim, wryly noting that when her previous (and debut) novel, The Coming Bad Days, was released, it was during the pandemic and was largely lost in the shuffle, with Bernstein only doing two Zoom events during the promotional period.
Founded by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994, the Giller Prize is Canada’s leading and most influential literary prize for fiction. The Giller Effect has been recognized industry-wide as one of the top drivers of book sales in Canada. Scotiabank has been title sponsor since 2005. The Scotiabank Giller Prize now awards $100,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel, graphic novel or short story collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the finalists. The award is named in honour of Jack Rabinovitch’s wife, the late literary journalist, Doris Giller.